Jeroen Kweekel came into the race with a commanding 36 point lead in the championship, with the most wins and podiums of the field. The fight for second on the other hand was much closer, with 5 drivers covered by 41 points. Singapore saw the second race of the season for reigning world champion Petar Brljak, who after a sabbatical rejoined the fray last time out in Monza and immediately impressed with a fifth-placed finish.
Qualifying was a closely contested affair, the usual suspects quickly claiming their places at the top of the timesheets. Kweekel in his Origin Front Row Racing car was on provisional pole after the first runs, but seemed to be struggling with the balance of his car. GhostSpeed Racing Team’s Jernej Simoncic moved into first soon after, with ACE series polesitter Michi Hoyer and Musto Racing driver Muhammed Patel within one-and-a-half tenths. Patel then found more time to edge ahead of Simoncic, as Kweekel set a couple of purple first sectors but could not sustain the improvement through the rest of the lap. A few other drivers found the odd tenth or two but no one could really challenge the top four. On his last lap Simoncic found a tenth himself to secure pole, followed by Patel, Kweekel, and Hoyer. The returning Brljak was sixth, under four-tenths off the pace, while the surprise underperformer was Parisis who could only manage 13th.
Simoncic had a decent getaway, and comfortably covered off the inside line as Patel had half a look at making a move. There was the slightest of contact between the two cars behind as Hoyer had a good launch from fourth, but Kweekel had the racing line and confidently swept into Turn 1 to hold on to third. Behind them there was plenty of action for the first half of the lap, but the racing was clean for the most part and there were no major incidents. The big winner on the opening lap was Danny van der Niet, who jumped seven places from his grid position of 21st to run in 14th by the end of the lap.
Simoncic leads the field into Turn 1.
Most of the field ran in close proximity throughout the first stint, with the top 13 cars covered by just 10 seconds after seven laps. The first of the front runners to pit were Hoyer and Dian Kostadinov at end of lap 8, Hoyer in particular going for an undercut. Patel and Kweekel responded by coming in next time around, but Hoyer had already jumped Kweekel and was side-by-side with Patel at the pit exit. As his two rivals battled Kweekel got a superb run down Raffles Boulevard and they went three wide into Turn 7. Hoyer came from a long way back as he went for the inside line, and he and Patel collided at the corner apex; Hoyer spun, losing a few seconds, while Patel survived unscathed and retained position over Kweekel.
Simoncic pitted next time around, and emerged with a healthy lead with his three rivals losing time fighting one another. The other option tyre runners followed him in, coming out behind Hoyer. This left the entire train behind four cars that were still on their starting set of primes, setting up some scintillating racing. Kweekel and Patel proved most adept at cutting through the slower cars, getting past Mike Partington on their out-laps. Hoyer was less fortunate, being spun again at Turn 9 by the Brehm GP car and losing a number of positions this time. On lap 13, Blair Disley, the last of the prime runners, pitted, freeing up Kweekel and Patel. By this time Simoncic had built up a 6 second lead; he would hardly be seen for the rest of the race.
An unfortunate Hoyer is spun twice in three laps.
The gaps throughout the field started to grow in the second stint, Kostadinov on his primes in particular dropping back from fifth-placed Daniel Kiss and holding up the cars behind. Hoyer again triggered the next round of stops on lap 18 and teammate Martin Stefanko followed a lap later. Both Avid Chronic Racing cars went for options, setting the tone for an aggressive strategy for the whole race. Kweekel and Patel pitted on lap 20, emerging behind Kweekel’s teammate Kuba Brzezinski, and the VBMadCape cars of Parisis and George Manousakis. Brljak stopped one lap later and emerged right on Patel’s gearbox, but on cold tyres couldn’t quite manage an overtake. Simoncic again timed his stop perfectly, emerging ahead of the traffic and in clear air.
Once more the out-of-sync cars created great entertainment, Kweekel and Patel opportunistically passing Manousakis going under the Bay Grandstand. Parisis on old tyres was not content with simply defending and tried a move on Brzezinski on lap 25; Kweekel was held up as a result which allowed Patel a chance to attack. The two cars ran wheel-to-wheel from Turn 10 through the Anderson Bridge hairpin and down to Turn 14, from which Kweekel finally emerged back ahead. After a few more laps of probing the Dutchman finally got a decisive run on Parisis down Raffles Boulevard, and as the Greek driver struggled for grip Patel and Brljak quickly got past too. Brzezinski then mercifully pitted immediately after, completing a 16-lap stint and freeing up the chasing trio behind. Simoncic was now a massive 16 seconds in the lead. Meanwhile, Kiss was the only other car in touch with the small train led by Kweekel.
Parisis tries to fight off three cars on significantly fresher tyres.
On lap 30, Kweekel on worn softs had a small slide and lightly hit the wall exiting Turn 8, allowing Patel through into second. The championship leader reacted by pitting for the third time, but Patel had a quick in-lap and just managed to fend off the undercut. Brljak opted to continue running in clean air for a few more laps while Patel and Kweekel had to fight past Brzezinski on fairly new primes. Brljak pitted on lap 34 and still managed to emerge in second, but Patel swiftly got past before the Slovenian could run away on fresher tyres. Kiss had previously dropped off the tail of Brljak and this cost him when he pitted, emerging from the pits with three cars between himself and Kweekel.
In the bottom half of the top 10 a number of different strategies were playing out. On lap 38 Stefanko and Hoyer pitted for a fifth set of options, and this time appeared in clear air, allowing them to finally exploit the pace of their tyres. Contrastingly Brzezinski and Parisis were still on their third set of tyres, and were holding Kiss off for fifth and sixth. On lap 41 however Parisis got slightly out of shape while attacking Brzezinski and spun exiting Turn 8, with Kiss an unfortunate collateral victim. Both cars lost three positions as a result.
Parisis spins, and Kiss can't quite get out of the way.
On lap 44 Brljak, with three lap fresher tyres, finally fought past Patel, and swiftly pulled away from his teammate. Kweekel then pitted for the final time, again successfully undercutting Patel. Brljak once more stayed out longer, eventually pitting three laps after Kweekel, and consequently emerged behind him but ahead of the Musto Racing car. Without having to worry about extending his stints, Brljak was able to unleash his full pace, and attacked Kweekel into Turn 7 on lap 53, emerging with second place a corner later. Patel also proved more comfortable on the mediums than the Origin Front Row driver, and on the penultimate lap had a go himself down the DRS straight. Kweekel managed more of a fight this time, staying side-by-side with the Brit for three corners, but the latter finally got ahead for the final podium spot. Meanwhile Brljak was not letting up on his pace and steadily chipped away at Simoncic’s lead, but the win never truly looked in doubt and the GhostSpeed driver finished with a comfortable 4.1 second lead at the flag.
An excited Simoncic wiggles his way across the finish line.
Behind them there were a number of casualties of the demanding circuit, Manousakis and Brzezinski both retiring with engine failure on laps 52 and 59 respectively. The Avid Chronic Racing drivers took full advantage, making an aggressive five-stop strategy work, as Stefanko and Hoyer finished fifth and sixth. Kiss recovered from the incident with Parisis to finish close behind in seventh. Kostadinov was eighth, while the five-stopping James Sadler took ninth, just three tenths of a second ahead of Parisis who was the only three-stopper to score points.
With his first win of the season, Simoncic moved up two places in the standings to fifth, just five points off Brzezinski in third. Kweekel had a somewhat indifferent race by his usual standards, but still took a solid step towards securing the title by outscoring his two closest rivals. The fight for second in the championship, conversely, got closer still, with less than a race win’s worth of points covering Parisis, Brzezinski, Patel, Simoncic, and Kiss.
The championship next heads to Japan’s Suzuka International Circuit for a very different challenge for the drivers.